How COVID-19 Aggravated Unemployment Rates in the Arab World

Published September 2nd, 2020 - 03:00 GMT
Unemployment in These Arab Countries Has Been Aggravated by COVID-19, but Is There Hope?
Closures imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, massive layoffs were reported in businesses that couldn't carry on routine operations remotely. (Shutterstock: Tarikdiz / Al Bawaba)

Unemployment rates have for very long been used as signs to whether a certain economy is a healthy one or not. In the MENA region, unemployment numbers have varying levels and point to different problems, as each country lives its own reality in terms of resources and wealth. Yet, this year it seems  a pandemic may have unified conditions for everyone as the world witnesses shocking spikes in the numbers of people who lost their jobs.

Regional recession resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns has only made things worse for the jobless population in the world, particularly in the MENA region, even in the rich-oil countries of the GCC.

Despite initial predictions projecting economic growth during 2020, driven by stable and relatively high prices of oil during 2019, the novel Coronavirus reached our region only a few weeks into the beginning of the year to wreak havoc across the GCC's main source of income, pushing oil prices to record lows, especially during an international halt on travel and movement last spring.

Additionally, due to closures imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, massive layoffs were reported in businesses that couldn't carry on routine operations remotely, including transportation and educational sectors.

In 2018, the International Labor Organization reported 2.3% in economic growth in Arab states and predicted persistent results over the years to follow. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.

In this article, we will take a look at 2019 unemployment rates in some of the major countries in the region and try to compare it with the data available, so far, to try and measure the damage caused by the pandemic so far.

1. KSA

In Q1 of 2020, 11.8% of Saudis were reportedly unemployed compared to 12% in the same period of the year in 2019. This positive impact is mainly attributed to the lockdown in Saudi not taking place until the end of Q1.

Despite the lack of information in regard to the rest of the year, the unemployment rate in KSA is expected to be greatly higher, considering that the kingdom's biggest company, Aramco, announced plans to have the biggest job cuts ever during 2020.

2. UAE

While it's hard to find accurate unemployment numbers in a country heavily reliant on foreign workers, who were amongst the first to be laid off last spring, Bloomberg expected that COVID-19 will cost the country about 900k jobs.

The UAE's population nears 9 million, about 90% of which are not citizens. 

In 2019, the Emirati government data showed a 2.35% unemployment rate among citizens in the country.

3. Egypt

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, a total of 9.6% of Egyptians were unemployed during 2020's Q2, compared to 7.5% during the same period of last year, citing the pandemic as the main reason of the rise of jobless figures in the country.

4. Jordan

For several years now, Jordan has reported worrying unemployment rates as the country has been living through economic difficulties prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the pandemic and a near 2-month lockdown in the country have pushed fears of the unemployment rate to jump from a 19.3% to over 30%, according to the Workers' House, as the country has lost about 85k jobs in a few months.

5. Iraq

In a report published by the Iraqi Rudaw online platform last month, unemployment in the country had reached about 22% by the end of 2019 but had sharply spiked to about 40% following the Coronavirus outbreak.

6. Lebanon

Living through unprecedented economic collapse, unemployment in Lebanon has recorded 25% only weeks before the end of 2019. However, as the Coronavirus has made things worse; even before the massive attack that hit the capital city last month, there are serious fears that the rate could soar up to 70% during 2020.

7. Tunisia

According to the National Statistics Institute, the jobless rate in Tunisia has climbed to 18% during 2020's Q2, compared to 15.3% during Q1, as the economy continues to experience severe pressure following the pandemic.

Meanwhile, many governments and organizations in the private sector are trying to set plans to recover many of the lost jobs and support the individuals who has been impacted by the crisis.

Similarly, there have been tremendous work to equip workers with advanced technological and automation skills to enable as many people as possible to keep their jobs remotely in case a second wave interrupts our world again.

These efforts have been greatly supported by the global tendency to "cope" with the virus and to resume work while taking the needed measures to protect people's health, such as conducting random tests and launching contact tracing apps to ensure a safe return of economic activities.

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